Imagine tapping into more than 35 million professionals in over 200 countries and territories worldwide for possible new sales leads, to gain insight from other industry colleagues about upcoming industry trends, and to simply connect with so many different options. This is the amazing reality of social media.
Social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Digg offer you some top-notch professional and business connections that you would never be able to access otherwise. LinkedIn alone boasts these 35 million professionals. So more and more VARs are logging on and logging in to find, be introduced to, and connect with like-minded people to accomplish their business goals. You’ve no doubt heard of LinkedIn and these other social networking sites, and you’ve perhaps even created an account. You recognize the value of being involved in this viral network. Someone asks you if you’re LinkedIn or on Facebook and you say, “Sure.” But quietly think to yourself, “I’m not sure what I should be doing though.”
You’re not alone. So let’s take a look at some of the ways to maximize social networking to your advantage.
First, the network that you develop for yourself will consist of your connections, your connections’ connections, and the people they know, and so on and so on. It’s similar to the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” where you are just a few connections away from key people. It’s the ultimate in networking, and you’re doing it virtually instead of at a Chamber of Commerce mixer or an annual meeting or trade show where you are limited by the physical attendees. In theory, you could be meeting future customers while lounging in your pajamas. Not only will you find partners and business opportunities, but they will find you too!
Now that you’ve set up your account, what do you do next?
1. Put on your sales hat and start selling you! The first step on any social networking site is to create an intriguing and informative profile about yourself and/or your business. Approach this like building an online resume, only you’re creating it within an already developed template. Start with four or five words that sell what you have to offer – let people know not only what you’ve done in your career, but also where you’re headed. One word of caution – don’t just cut and paste your resume into the profile field. It’s great to include that, but you must go beyond the standard resume. What are you passionate about? What are your core values? What makes your business different from your competitors? Why should customers choose you for their VAR? Social network sites elevate resume writing to the creative “self sell” it should be. You are sharing more than just your professional experience – you’re selling the whole package.
2. What details do you include? People do business with people so include a photo of yourself. Remember, a picture paints a thousand words so you’ll want to look professional but approachable in your photo. Lounging on your friend’s boat with an umbrella drink in your hand probably isn’t the best way to tell your story. But being in a stiff suit might not be either. Find a photo that you’re comfortable with and that speaks words about who you are as a professional VAR. Let people know how you want to be contacted. Do you prefer email? Maybe communicating through the social networking site for awhile works fine but do you want to communicate more directly? Or do you want people to call you out of the blue? Be specific about what’s acceptable (and what isn’t) for networking with you. The more honest you are about what you’re hoping to accomplish, the better your chances of connecting with like-minded people.
3. Start building your network. This could be “friends,” “connections” or other terminology depending on the social networking site. But the bottom line is, one connection usually leads to another as you build out your network farther and farther into this vast community. One good way to judge whether or not you want to make a connection with someone is to decide whether or not you would take a phone call from them during your busy day. If you would take the call, then invite that person into your fold. If you wouldn’t, you might want to think twice about the invitation.
4. Maximize the connections you make. Pose questions and answer others. Informed sources will chime in with their information. You become a resource for others. Recommend customers, vendors, and colleagues whom you know and ask them to do the same. Aren’t you more likely to do business with a vendor that is recommended to you by a trusted friend or business partner? The same rules apply here, too.
Of course, when you make yourself public, there are possible dangers and pitfalls to watch out for as well. People can spam and say negative things about you or your business. But that works both ways so never, ever leave negative feedback in public domain. You also might find “leads” on your doorstep that you don’t want or won’t fit within the network that you’re building. And lastly, don’t oversell and build yourself up too much.
The bottom line is that you have an amazing opportunity to develop connections and build quality leads and relationships in these communities. Using social networks will allow you to not only grow your business financially, but it will also enrich your business experience as you learn new and innovative ways to approach business from your peers.
A dedicated marketing professional, Michelle Kabele has been helping technology companies develop award-winning channel partner programs and marketing strategies for over 10 years. Michelle has worked extensively with small businesses throughout North America.
Michelle has an MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Evanston, Ill.)